GROTON - Lawrence Academy issued a public apology Thursday after a year-long investigation concluded that a former employee took part in multiple acts of sexual misconduct with students in the 1990s.
The private school released the findings of the investigation carried out by the Sanghavi Law Office in Brookline. The investigation looked into allegations made by seven former students against Peter Regis, who worked for the school's Facilities and Buildings and Grounds department from 1988 to 2001. The female students, who were not named in the report, claimed that Regis exposed himself to them in the 1990s while they were working on cars in the "Garage," a building the report says is located behind the Waters House dormitory on the western part of campus.
According to the report, two of the former students made allegations of misconduct to the school while they were students and four of the seven students agreed to participate in the investigation.
Regis was also interviewed for the probe.
The report says Regis starting living in Waters House during the 1991-1992 school year with his wife, who worked in the school's library and supervised students in the dorm. Regis repaired vehicles in the two-level "Garage" and offered car maintenance classes to students during a two-week period in March every year. Students would also want Regis to help them fix their cars after school hours.
Four former students detailed the incidents that they believed constituted as sexual misconduct.
The third student told investigators that her incident involved her standing up while Regis was on his back under a car with his legs sticking out from under and his penis "hanging out of his jeans."
The fourth student told investigators that while she was on a wheeled cart and Regis was on the ground next to her, he brushed sparks off of her breast over her shirt with his hand, but not on any other part of her body.
None of the four students interviewed for the investigation told any adults about their incidents with Regis. The first explained that she feared no one would believe her and that she'd be kicked out of school for telling anyone, while the second claimed that she was working for Regis and didn't want an adult telling her not to go the "Garage."
Regis told investigators that he did not remember the first three students. He added that he did not expose himself to the first student who claimed he exposed himself to her and that he did not remember being told his zipper was down, despite the second student telling him that when she saw him exposed. Regis said he did not remember his zipper being opened as described by the third student and the he did not brush sparks of the fourth student's chest or anyone else's chest.
The investigation noted that then-Head of School Steven Hahn was aware of the two other students who brought allegations against Regis back in the 1990s. Though Regis was told he could no longer hold his auto classes or interact with students, the investigation concluded that the school did not put in any monitoring process to ensure Regis kept out of contact with students nor did it keep any written record of the allegations. The investigation also noted that Regis continued to live at Waters House for at least nine months after the school learned of the allegations.
"Although the school took initial steps once on notice of some of the alleged conduct, the Investigative Team identified concerns with the school's response," the report concluded.
The investigation points out that the school sent a letter to the state Department of Social Services in the 1990s that stated the administration was aware of the allegations made against Regis by the two students. It also notes that Hahn did not recall any recommendation or outcome from the letter to the DSS.
Lawrence Academy issued a letter to the school community calling Regis's actions "deplorable" and apologized "sincerely and unconditionally" for them occurring. The school said in a follow-up email to the media that the report was received "earlier this month" and later reviewed by the school's Board of Trustees.
"The school did not do enough to prevent such harm and to protect the students in its care," the letter read. "In addition, in our view the school did not do enough to help those victims of Mr. Regis who came forward, discover whether there were other victims, or ensure that there would be no future victims of Mr. Regis, and we apologize for those failures."
Vanessa Osage, one of the two victims who came forward with allegations when she was a student in the 1990s, said on Thursday that she was aware of the investigation but chose not to participate on the principle that she believed the investigation was a "diversion" from where focus needed to be. She told her story to The Sun in May 2018, with another victim coming forward with allegations against Regis two months later.
Osage told The Sun last year that she was seeking a $500,000 settlement from the school for losses and damages. She said on Thursday that she still expects the school to settle with her and that the monetary amount of the settlement has been lowered to "20 percent of the original demand."
"The more important investigation is to the extent of which current and former headmasters mistreated students and families to cover up instances of abuse," Osage said. "This investigation only arose in response to another alumna coming forward."
Osage had been trying to convince Hahn to address the allegations since June 1997 and even told an auditorium full of students at the school her story in December 2001.
"They seem to take credit for the speech that I gave in 2001 at an assembly at age 23 after seven years of expecting them to do the right thing," Osage added, referring to the school. "There needs to be a more thorough look at the failures of responding."